A divorced Cougel goes to a wedding - on her wedding anniversary.

How does it feel to be a single divorcee at a wedding? 
I found out this weekend.
I’ve been to two weddings since my divorce. One of them was with my first ex-cub, and my parents – a cousin’s wedding. The second was a close family friend and I had my sisters and parents to sit with; they served as a security blanket.
I attended a wedding of a new friend this weekend. It was a spur of the moment decision that came about when he was kind enough to invite me, and I was honored. I had originally had plans with a romantic prospect, but in the weeks leading up to it, I sensed they were going to fall through. The guy and I didn’t have any longevity in the cards, including the week leading up to Labor Day. When he canceled due to work conflicts, I wasn’t surprised or sad. I was even relieved, and used that opportunity to seize the chance to go do something different- an adventure. A wedding in gorgeous Vermont where I could spend some time alone, celebrate a momentous day with my friend and his bride, and perhaps meet some new people.
Looking back, it was probably a bold move. I’m social, I like meeting new people, but I wasn’t prepared for the discovery that every single person there was in a relationship. Two of the four couples at my table were engaged. I was the single odd gal out.
It didn’t freak me out, or upset me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice it, or that it didn’t underscore my “aloneness” – a state of being that has ceased to bother me more or less, especially living in NYC and spending time with my single friends, or married friends in the midst of divorces.
I arrived the night before the wedding and enjoyed the few hours leading up to post rehearsal dinner drinks luxuriating in my aloneness. I declined getting a ride up and instead I took the train to Albany followed by a taxi for the hour drive to Manchester, so I could read and spend time in my head. I took a bath, ordered a bottle of wine for one, and then joined a few people (some I knew and some I didn’t) for drinks.
When I walked into the bar and sat down amidst the couples at the table, something dawned on me. And without thinking, I blurted, “Today is what would have been my eleven year wedding anniversary.”
Record scratch. Followed by a few empty stares, and one look of pity. “You’re divorced?”
My response: “Yeah. But I’m okay! I’m not sad. Really.”
How’s that for some rain on a hopeful romance parade?
The following day I went into town to have lunch and to enjoy some outlet mall retail therapy. When I walked by a quaint restaurant, I experienced a strange dejavu sensation. I had been here before. Had I blocked it out? And then it occurred to me (and I had to text my mom), I had been to Manchester over a decade ago with my ex-husband and ex-mother-in-law.
The wedding was exquisite, held at the exquisite Hildene grounds of Lincoln’s historical mansion. The weather was perfect. Until it wasn’t. An hour into dinner, the sky grew black and the winds fierce, thrashing the grand tent overhang and knocking over glasses.  What followed was an hour of torrential downpour and a tornado watch on Vermont. Everyone relocated into the grand living room of the mansion. People sat along the stair case, hands empty because the bar was outside in the downpour. But they adapted. The bride and groom danced in the small space before the fireplace, and the father of the bride gave a moving speech.
I couldn’t resist the obvious metaphor.  We plan for perfection. We hope for flawlessness, but of course, there is no such thing. Instead, we learn to adapt. And adapt quickly, and revel in the mess that can show life at its most beautiful.
My wedding on that day eleven years ago was what you would call flawless, weather included. People called me for months to say it was the best wedding ever. “It was perfect!” As if it was a good sign that our marriage would be too.
When everyone moved back outside, I felt a surprising pang of sadness.  But I didn’t miss my ex-husband.  I missed my ex-boyfriend (who I had spent Hurricane weekend with).  In retrospect, weddings will do that to you. Duh. So I shouldn’t have been surprised, or mad at myself for texting him that I wished he was there.  But I was.  Perhaps I should have been more emotionally prepared. If I had to do it over again, I would still go. I was glad to be there. But next time – and a note to all yea single women – if you’re going to a wedding without a swim buddy, rain or shine, you have to know what to expect. Or leave your Blackberry in your hotel to ward off needy misplaced texting.
My two close girlfriends who are also divorced are both in serious relationships and contemplating marriage number two.  I wondered what they would be thinking had they been there with me. Would they be viewing the young engaged couples at my table, or the bride and groom, through different lenses? We’ve all heard that it’s different the second time. An older woman who I happened to sit beside on the shuttle to the wedding, offered the following to me unprompted: “It’s better the second time. Trust me.”
I have yet to find out. But I’m hopeful.

Why do some married men not wear rings?

I just returned from a week of what’s been dubbed, “Spring Break for adults” – the Cannes Lions Festival (the advertising one, not the glamourous film one). It was my first time there, due to my new job, representing my production company.
It was a blast (and the reason I couldn’t write a new blog last night, let alone form a coherent thought).
I had been warned. “You’re going to have the best time. It’s bonkers!” not to mention, “You’re so going to get hit on!” and “You’re definitely going to hook up with a French dude.”
The first two of the above happened. And when I got home, everyone seemed to want to know if the third thing transpired.
I guess it’s assumed, if you’re single and semi attractive (although I don’t think that even matters), that having a romance in Cannes is as easy (and allowed) as having a gelato after dinner or cigarettes when you don’t normally smoke.
(Disclaimer: The topic of this post can easily bring me to it’s close cousin, “Why do people cheat?” but I won’t go down that path here. This post is more about the prequel; the crumbs at the top of the treacherous infidelity path.)
It seems that being single has nothing to do with it either. I have never met so many married men without wedding rings on. I have never met so many men I had wonderful conversations with, where I thought something more than just a fling might develop, only to discover that they are married, with kids (I had to ask).
What is this about?
This behavior is not new.  I’ve just never seen it in such a concentrated form, where it seems permissible.
By the way, I don’t judge it. You never know what is actually going on behind closed marital doors, and the weight of despair on someone’s mind. This opinion of mine stems from having had some experience. Because when I was married, in the subconscious stage of unhappiness – where I hadn’t voiced it aloud, or even to myself – was in retrospect guilty of concealing my marital status too. While I always wore my ring, and never attempted to stray, there were definitely times where I’d meet an attractive stranger at a party and “I” would escape from my lips, rather than “we.” ie. “I moved to Los Angeles…” or “I had people over for dinner…” Looking back, I’m mortified at my behavior, as subconscious and uncalculated as it was. Looking back, it was a major marital satisfaction barometer, and a harbinger of what was to come.
Why do we this? For some, it’s ego. I believe that some of the men (and probably women too) who were at Cannes without their rings on, probably wanted to see if they were still attractive and worthy of being hit on. It doesn’t mean they were planning on cheating (although some do, of course…there were magnum size bottles of Rose on every table). And some people have been married so long (as I was), that a fantasy develops – a romantic yearning – of what it might be like to be single; to be free to flirt and go with the romantic and sexual wind without consequence.  It is human nature.
A friend of mine, when I told her about one particular married man who came on to me, after admitting he was married but on his way to divorce, exclaimed: “What an asshole!”  I beg to differ. “He can do whatever he wants,” I replied.  “I’d be the asshole if I went there, knowing the truth. It’s up to me.”
Do I have a point? Or am I too forgiving – perhaps too empathetic – because I understand how compromised (or even distorted) people’s emotions and behavior can be when they are unhappily married?
Perhaps I am just naïve. Perhaps I prefer to be. Us single women, who are still hopeful about our prospects and optimistic about marriage (me included), would like to remain enclosed in the naïve bubble, rather than get a glimpse into how rampant infidelity actually is. Having it confirmed, or worse, being the instrument to it, can only lead to disappointment, depression, and sometimes shame.
I think in this case, the phrase “ignorance is bliss” applies, and now that I’m back in the bubble that is my single life in NYC,  I choose to cling to its clichéd wisdom.

Why do we care about the marriages of strangers?

In the early years of my marriage, and even before that, when my ex husband and I were dating (ie. when things were good) I would open the New York Times style section to read the Modern Love column.  The “vows” section, a two page spread of wedding announcements, didn’t interest me, although for some reason I’d quickly glance at the couples’ last names to locate inter-faith marriages (foreshadowing?).  Sometimes I’d read the feature story to learn how the couple met, or what they did for a living. The feature story seemed to be reserved for power players or socialites, and I must have been intrigued by how they were able to “have it all” – a successful career, good looks, and of course, true love. 

During the period when my marriage was on the rocks, I found myself perusing the vows section more closely. I did this when my husband wasn’t around, to avoid detection (some people sneak porn; I’d sneak wedding announcements).  I’d study the photographs of the happy glowing couples and would experience a brief pang of yearning.
After my divorce, I didn’t even think to read this section, and when I did happen to come across it I’d roll my eyes. Sounds bitter I know, but at that point I saw things differently. Or rather, I felt I saw through things – I saw past the shiny idyllic surface and guessed there was more going on than meets the eye.  It strengthened my view that the media – books, movies, magazines – glorified marriage, and presented is as some fairytale illusion.
I considered blogging on this subject last week,  and then something in today’s vow’s section sealed the deal. The feature story was about the marriage of a guy named Matt Kay to a woman named Sascha Rothchild. Ms. Rothchild is the author of the book ‘How to Get Divorced by 30.’  
Yep. She got divorced, published a memoir about it, and then married again – announcing it in the vows section.  How’s that for irony?
It made me question who actually reads this section. Women who have never been married and hope to someday? Or is it women in unhappy marriages who read it? Do men? If you don’t know the people in it, how is it any more interesting than reading the classifieds when you’re not job hunting? Or stock listings when you’re broke?
You might be wondering why I found myself reading it today. It was the feature story that drew my attention. If a woman who has experienced divorce (a kind of shattering of the wedding fantasy) is able to re-embrace the joys of marriage, come full circle, and announce it to the world,  then maybe the vows section has a purpose. Perhaps its staying power is as strong, and as hopeful, as a long lasting marriage.
Do you ever read this section and stop to wonder what it says about you?

Vacation part two: Israel, where I go to grow.

I’m technically American because I was born here, but I’ve always considered myself Israeli too. My parents are Israeli and took my sisters and I to visit since we were little kids, where we spent long hot summers sleeping at my grandparents and playing hide and seek with our cousins. Heblish was my first language, and I blame my English language deficiency and grammatical slip ups on the fact that I didn’t hear advanced English around me in my formative years (it’s weird that I’m a writer). My point is, when your mother says “zambie” instead of “zombie,” and “let’s go to the Dust-Buster to rent a movie,” there’s some unlearning to be done.

I just returned from another trip to Israel. As an adult I still go every year or two. I can’t help it. My sisters feel the same – we need our “fix,” even if it’s for six days like this trip was for me. One of my cousins got married; I have so many that there’s always an annual excuse to go (not that I need one). But this trip was extra special because it was the first time my parents, sisters, and their children were all there at the same time. Add that to the thirty relatives who live there, and it’s one big party. It’s always emotional to see my cousins – who I feel connected to like siblings – the ones I grew up playing in the back fields of my grandparents house with, now all married with families of their own. One cousin who I am particularly close with and not just because he has a wicked sense of humor and calls me “bitch” (pronounced “beach”), picks me up at the airport, even when I land at five in the morning, and then we start house hopping, reuniting. My sisters who might be described as regimented or finicky back home, immediately adapt to the easy going Israeli culture. They pack light, sleep in different houses every night, the kids on mattresses on the floor, running barefoot outside, and no one cares about dirt or mess or the fact that it’s over a hundred degrees out.

And then there’s me, the “single” one, untethered by children or anyone else’s schedule. I can sleep until one in the afternoon (which I do) and stay wherever I want. Read: where there’s a working air conditioner. The AC in “my room” in my aunt’s attic broke, so the night after the wedding, which went on until close to 3am, I drove back from Jerusalem with my parents (and a caravan of relatives behind us). They set me up on a mattress on their bedroom floor, and before my mom and I put our earplugs in (my dad snores), I said: “Now you two behave yourselves or I’m going to have to blog about it.”

I noticed that I was in a unique position on this trip: an adult, older than many of my cousins who have kids, and yet still a kid myself, being looked after by my parents. And yes, mom still not only looks after me, she chases after me. Especially at meals. Wherever I go, there she is, making sure I’m eating more (and drinking less). On my last day there, my entire family (all 43 of us) had sabbath lunch at my cousin’s restaurant. When I arrived I sat next to my cousin and his new wife, and when I looked up, there was mom, sitting across from me. Without thinking, without stopping to realize that my mother just loves me and wants to be near me, I snapped, and told her I didn’t want to sit next to her because I wasn’t up for the Israeli style surveillance. She got upset, and rightly so, but I felt justified. I was on vacation; a grown-up who doesn’t need to be told how to behave by her mother. And yet I acted like a child.

Mothers have thick skin, right? It surfaces when their first child is born and coarsens over time, doesn’t it? I see my sisters lose their shit and lash out at mom, and their girls do it to them. It’s part of being a member of the family system. We constantly wrestle with our need to be individuals, and our need to be loved and accepted.

Not an excuse, Cougel. “Respect thy mother and father…No matter how irritating they can be,” I chastised myself.

That night I went out with the cousins and my sister to a bar and we stayed out til 2. I told my parents that rather than waking them (drunk and smelling like smoke), I’d sleep in the living room since I had to get up four hours later to catch my flight home to New York anyway. I also knew that if I slept in their room, they wouldn’t get any sleep until I got home. My second night in Israel was my dad’s first, and he surprised me by waiting up for me. “Abba, it’s 1:30 in the morning, aren’t you exhausted?” I asked. He didn’t answer the question: “I was waiting for you.” “Dad, I’m 38.” “I’ll do it when you’re 60,” he said.

I set my Blackberry alarm for seven and had no problem getting up. A moment later, I heard my parents’ bedroom door rattle open upstairs and mom’s feet shuffling across the floor and down the stairs. She was coming to wake me. When she saw me, her face brightened in amazement. “How did you get up? I didn’t sleep all night, I was worried you’d oversleep.” My reply: “You know that Blackberry you use to text me in all caps with? It also has an alarm clock.”

I let her help me pack. She wrapped my sandals in plastic bags (so they won’t touch my clothes) and pulled the stray hairs from my hairbrush. But my most notable act of reconciliation? I let her make me oatmeal with honey. God forbid I should fly hungry. I wasn’t hungry, but I smiled and ate the whole thing anyway, under her watchful – and loving – eye.

They drove me to the airport, and got out of the car to hug me. I was going home, and would see them in a week, but it felt similar to a college send off. In a way, I think they might be on to something. Recognizing the stage of life I’m at – on the brink of letting go of my childlike freedom and preparing for the next stage where I might have children of my own – this trip did feel like some kind of last hurrah. And there is no better place for a quick fix – for a quick retrieval of my unfettered and boundless youth – than a trip to Israel, the place where I got to grow up. And still do.

My mother, the alcohol police.

My mother doesn’t drink. And she doesn’t understand why anybody would. Especially her own daughter.

Whenever I go out for dinner with my parents, I keep it to a two-drink minimum. Sometimes my father will order a bottle and embolden me. But most of the time, I figure it’s not worth the wrath. Or her sticking her nose in my mouth after dinner to smell how much I’ve actually drank. She almost always gets it right on the nose (pun intended).

So what better place for her to enforce her authority than at a wedding, where I’m locked in a banquet hall with her for six hours, and where the alcohol is free?
 
I knew what was coming. The last time I was at my cousin’s wedding in Israel, where everyone was drinking tequila, my mother kept appearing next to me, no matter who I was talking to, pretending to be interested in the conversation. But really she was interested in what I was holding in my hand. Sometimes she takes the glass from me and takes a sip, as if she enjoys the taste. She then holds the glass awkwardly for a moment and nods her head at who ever happens to be speaking, like she’s listening. And then in a flash, she’s gone. With my glass of wine.

So here we were yesterday, on our way to a wedding. My parents picked me up from the train station. They talked about what kind of food there would be and how hungry they were. But not me. I was thirsty.  My mom knew it. It was the elephant in the car we didn’t speak of. Instead she said, “Maybe you’ll meet someone at the wedding.”

Do you know anyone who’s met their spouse at a wedding? It’s been known to happen, although not to anyone I know. Or to me.

Especially not at a Jewish wedding. In New Jersey. Mom didn’t appreciate that comment. But I deemed it safer than saying I’d be more likely to have the energy to meet someone slightly inebriated, rather than cranky and hungover (I was both).

I wasn’t thinking clearly though. This wedding wasn’t a Jewish wedding. In fact, it was a unique mix of many rituals. It was lovely. The bride was Jewish and the groom Irish Catholic. In a sense, it was Jew-ish. Which meant plenty of interesting foods, eclectic music (ever danced a Jewish jig? It’s like the Horah with bagpipes), but more so, for this Cougel, it meant a vast buffet of attractive goys. Just the way I like em. And instead of a brisket and chopped liver station, we get a vodka station!

My mother was on my heels (should’ve worn my flats). She knows how to find me, no matter my attempts for evasion. This time it was under the guise of meeting her friends, all with Israeli names that blend together. “You remember Chava! From Josh and Rachel’s wedding ten years ago, right?” (The part she left out: “Or were you drunk?”)

No matter that my sister was drinking too, and that we were all having a blast. My sister is married with children. So unlike me, she’s “allowed.” The moral of the story is that once you’re the anointed F-up in your family, there is no getting out of it. So you might as well live up to it. I could have stuck to one glass of wine, and she still would have thought I was overdoing it. Because according to my parents, that’s my thing. Besides, what would they have to worry about otherwise? I’m doing a good deed. At least I’m giving them something to fix, and to bond over on the drive home down the turnpike.

Five hours into the wedding I met some interesting people, guys included. Some Jewish, some not. My parents and sisters were happy though. I wasn’t seated at their table, but rather at the “singles” table right beside them, where they got to watch the show with challah rolls in hand instead of popcorn. And mom got to keep her eye on me and my wine glass. This is akin to trying to make out in your basement when you’re 16 and your parents are upstairs. You can never relax because you’re waiting to get caught.

Mom – if you’re reading this – I am not a drunk. I’m over 21 and single, and that is what people do. I know we’ve had this conversation before, but I figured I’d disclaim it again here, in case your friends are reading this and will think your daughter has a problem. I have many, yes, but drinking is the least of them.

I got a ride home from the wedding with a very nice fellow, and the second I walked through the door, my mother called.
“How was it?”
“The wedding? I was there with you.”
“No, the ride with the guy.”
“It was nice mom. It beats the train.”
“Were you still drunk?”
( You’d think she’d be more concerned whether he was, since he was the one driving).
“No mom. Just tired.”
“You had six glasses, maybe seven. Didn’t you?”

Of course, she was right. As usual.

The upside? At least, with all this talk about drinking, she forgot to ask if I ate.